With Republican threats to dismantle the Affordable Care Act looming, Daniel E. Dawes, a health-care lawyer and the author of “150 Years of Obamacare,” is hearing concerns nationwide.
On a rainy Sunday night, when people could have been home with their families, or plunked on the couch watching the Golden Globes, they were in a stark auditorium on Mercer Island listening to a talk about health care.
They came through the cold, rain and dark because they are confused, scared — and rightfully so — about the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Every day, it seems, the incoming Republican-led administration issues a new target in its planned repeal of the ACA (otherwise known as Obamacare), which provides health care to an estimated 20 million people.
Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the repeal bill would include the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Punishment, I suppose, for the abortions that make up only 3 percent of the organization’s total services, which include screenings like mammograms and Pap smears, as well as birth control — all things that prevent more costly medical procedures down the line.
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But that’s another column.
“This election proved to be the one that is putting the Affordable Care Act in extreme peril,” said Daniel E. Dawes, an Atlanta-based health-care lawyer and the author of “150 Years of Obamacare,” who spoke at the Stroum Jewish Community Center.
Dawes is the executive director of health policy and external affairs at the Morehouse School of Medicine, and founder and chair of the National Working Group on Health Disparities and Health Reform. He literally wrote the book on Obamacare — and can’t understand why it’s under fire.
Republicans have said — and have been saying for years — they will tear the health-care plan down to the studs and replace it with a plan of their own. But we haven’t seen a word of that plan, Dawes said.
That didn’t just make the 100 people in the room squirm — that means that tens of millions of Americans spent the holidays fretting over whether their health coverage will end with the new president.
That lack of answers means there is nothing to do but wait. It’s like being stuck on the tarmac waiting for directions from air traffic control. Or an update from maintenance. Something, so you can prepare. But no.
Dawes knows it: “I will tell you, there are folks out there, literally, in tears,” he said.
And so does President Obama: “ … The strategy of ‘repeal first and replace later’ is a huge disservice to the American people,” he said in an interview with Vox last week. “These are real lives at stake.”
Some of those lives sat in the room the other night. Parents of a 24-year-old who will be kicked off their insurance plan in two years, Should they sign him up for Obamacare now?
“There’s so much you don’t know,” said Guy Astley, another attendee. “It’s devastating.”
Another woman stood up and cut to the chase:
“Why do the Republicans hate this so much?” she asked. “Do we just need to call it ‘Trumpcare?’ ”
It felt good to hear people laugh.
Dawes is just as confused, he said, by the attack on Obamacare.
“This couldn’t be a more Republican policy,” he said, then sighed. It was based on the Massachusetts universal coverage plan passed by a Republican governor. And it included giving people a subsidy that they could use to purchase insurance coverage on a regulated marketplace or exchange. The idea was to use competition to hold down costs.
So why pull it apart?
“Part of this is an effort to undermine Obama’s presidency,” Dawes said. “Many folks who voted for Trump didn’t realize they were voting against Obamacare.”
That fact was driven home recently by my colleague Danny Westneat, who wrote last November about three counties — Grays Harbor, Adams and Yakima — where people signed up for Obamacare in droves, then voted for Donald Trump.
Dawes offered some comfort. A new administration’s threat to dismantle a health-care plan isn’t new.
Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy made serious headway in mental-health care before President Nixon came into office and made a plan of his own.
In 1980, President Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act. The next year, new President Reagan signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which rendered most of Carter’s work moot.
It’s almost The American Way.
The problem is that we regular folk are the pawns in all this political posturing.
“Don’t you love it?” Dawes said.
To be honest, it makes me sick.